The Iconic Parker House Roll: A Step-by-Step Guide to Perfect Dinner Rolls

Parker House Rolls

These Parker House Rolls are legendary. They were made famous at the Parker House Hotel in Boston and were created in the 1870's. These deliciously soft and tender dinner rolls are brushed with butter and sprinkled with salt. I promise that once you try these you'll make them again and again! This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader.

According to legend, after a heated argument with a guest a frustrated hotel baker tossed a batch of unfinished rolls into the oven in a fit of anger and that's how Parker House Rolls came about. These rolls are so popular because they are soft and buttery and were known as "America's first soft dinner roll". Apart from being so soft and fluffy, these little rolls are folded over a bit like a clamshell so they're perfect for making little sandwiches out of. Their recipe and method remained a closely guarded secret until 1933. That year, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt requested they be served at a White House dinner which finally brought the recipe to light.

Parker House Rolls

If you want to bring a plate or something to a dinner, I definitely suggest that you bring a tray of these rolls. You'll be the most popular person there I suspect and they come with a cool, historical story too! There are a lot of recipes for Parker House Rolls online but the best one that I found was actually on the historic hotels website from the actual Omni Parker House. I found other recipes for Parker House rolls required 2 teaspoons of yeast instead of 1 teaspoon and the result were these huge, hulking buns, not delicate little dinner rolls. I did have to make a few batches to get to just the right quantity but I promise that these are foolproof and don't they look adorable sitting all snug in the baking tray?

Tips For Making Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

1 - I adapted the recipe and used a tangzhong roux in step 1. This 5 minute step makes bread softer, fluffier and last for a long time. I like doing the tangzhong since it's just Mr NQN and I we can't eat that much bread that quickly. You can skip this step if you're planning to eat these all in the first day or two and just add everything (flour, water, milk, egg, salt, sugar, yeast and first lot of butter) together in the bowl and knead.

2 - Make sure that the salt doesn't have direct contact with the yeast. Salt can kill yeast. For that reason I whisk the salt into the roux first to dissolve it.

3 - Please stick to the correct measurements for rolling out the dough and for the size of the baking dishes. These little buns sit perfectly in the baking dish below. If you follow these directions you'll end up with this gorgeous tiled effect.

4 - The cutting of the buns is the trickiest part but once you've done it once it's easy. I've shown steps below using pictures. You will end up with 16 dinner rolls.

Parker House Rolls

These Parker House Rolls are perfect if you're asked to bring something to a dinner and they're really popular at Thanksgiving or Christmas in America. I will be bringing a tray of these to the next Elliott picnic because they love fresh bread. The picnics are on hold as it is winter and it's a bit cold to sit outside so instead we are doing birthdays at pubs. Last week we had an Elliott family lunch for Mr NQN's sister Araluen and brother in law Laporello's birthdays. The kids love pubs and they're inexpensive and there's no drama about the bills because you just order everything separately. It can be tricky to find somewhere because it has to be very inexpensive for Manu (Mr NQN's brother) and also close to a train station because Tuulikki (Mr NQN's mother) gets public transport there plus ideally it's somewhere I haven't written about so I can do a review. This time it also had to be near Araluen's place because Aura Lily her teenager had to catch a train at 2pm.

We found a place near Araluen's house and she booked a table for 14 people. One of the review sites said that it had "plenty of space for your pooch" so we brought Teddy and Milo along. Unfortunately on the day when Araluen arrived, they lost her booking. They found her a table after a bit of back and forth. We arrived with Teddy and Milo and saw the signs on the doors that read, "No dogs". Confused, we asked them and they told us that only the outside area which was full was dog friendly so we took them to Araluen's house nearby.

Parker House Rolls

Then we ordered. Mr NQN's sister Amaya has two kids and they're vegetarian but despite the vegetarian friendly adult's menu the only kid's option was a beef burger for the kids. When she asked if it was possible to put lettuce or tomato or cheese on the bun or anything else (there's a vegetarian jackfruit burger on the adult's menu) they refused saying that there were no substitutions. She asked if they could some chips on the burger they told her she could BUY some chips. So she paid $13 for a burger bun and tomato sauce. When they're cheap like that it makes me worried that they cut corners elsewhere.

Our order arrived and it was wrong. And then by the time we had finished eating they told us that we had to vacate the table within 10 minutes because they were expecting another party. Sometimes I can really see the appeal of picnics instead of pubs when things go wrong like this!

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever tried Parker House Rolls? And do you think that when businesses act cheap, that they cut corners elsewhere?

Parker House Rolls

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An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott adapted from the Omni Parker House

Preparation time: 25 minutes plus 2.5 hours rising time

Cooking time: 25 minutes

  • 520g/18.3ozs baker's or bread flour
  • 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs water
  • 180ml/6flozs whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons/12g/0.4oz salt
  • 60g/2ozs caster or superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon/3.5g/0.12oz instant dried yeast
  • 60g/1/2 stick or 2ozs melted butter
  • Oil spray
  • 50g/1.7ozs melted butter, extra
  • 1 teaspoon flaked salt to sprinkle

Parker House Rolls

Step 1 - First make the tangzhong roux (you can skip this step if you're planning to eat the rolls over the next day). Remove 20g or 0.7oz of the total flour weight and place in a small saucepan and whisk with the half cup of water. Heat on low temperature until it reaches 65C/149F and it becomes thicker and smooth. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk, egg and salt until smooth. Set aside.

Parker House Rolls
Shaggy mixture

Step 2 - In the bowl of an electric mixer add the remaining 500g/1.1lb of flour and whisk with the sugar and yeast distributing it all well. Add in the roux mixture and the melted butter and stir until you get a rough, shaggy mixture. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and knead for 10 minutes until you get the window pane effect (flour your hands well and if you can stretch apart the dough without it breaking then it is ready). It is a fairly wet dough.

Parker House Rolls
Putting the bowl in another bowl of hot water to ensure a rise in cold weather

Step 3 - Grease a large bowl with oil spray and grease your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Cover with cling film and place the bowl in a bowl of hot water and leave to rise for 1.5 hours. You will replace the hot water a couple of times during this time.

Parker House Rolls

Top to bottom: rolling out half of the dough into a 20x30cms/8x12inch rectangle. Brushing with butter and cutting it in half lengthways and then in 8 pieces. Folding over with a small border.

Step 4 - Have a large 22x33x7.6cm/9x13x3inch baking dish ready and line it with parchment. This dough weighs 1kg/2.2lbs so divide it in two equal portions and you will have two 500g/1.1lb rounds of dough from which you'll make 8 dinner rolls. With both rounds you will get 16 rolls in total. Flour a surface generously with flour and place one dough round on this and stretch out the dough to 20x30cms/8x12inches (avoid stretching it bigger than this, slightly smaller is better than larger).

Parker House Rolls
16 folded over rolls, covered and ready for second rise

Step 5 - Brush the dough with the extra melted butter. Cut the dough in half lengthways and then fold each half over leaving a small border. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Then cut each folded over dough crossways into four pieces making 8 pieces total. Place in the baking dish in 4 rows of 4, the longest side of the buns against the longest side of the dish. Repeat with the other dough round.

Parker House Rolls
After second rise, ready to bake

Step 6 - Cover with cling film and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 180C/350F fan forced and bake for 25 minutes. Brush the buns with the remaining melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven and sprinkle with salt. Do not cut the buns or pull them apart for 20 minutes.

Parker House Rolls

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